When looking at the NBA standings, that glaring donut in the Wizards’ win column will certainly draw a bit of unwanted déjà vu. The Wizards, just one season removed from an atrocious 0-8 start in 2011, find themselves spiraling down a similar funnel of misfortune but somehow seem to be avoiding the panic button.
How so? Well, in contrast to last season, the Wizards of present day have actually managed to remain competitive for a vast portion of games up until the closing stretch, before maxing out just a few minutes before the final buzzer.
Last season’s tumbling start was highlighted by a barrage of incompetence, embarrassment, unpreparedness, and a sore lack of confidence. I mean, we all knew we were screwed the moment Andray Blatche strolled towards half court holding a mic, set to announce his self-appointment as the team’s captain, right?
RIGHT, because what commenced following that speech was forgettable for Wizards fans all over. A blown lead to the Nets that same night, followed by a handful of blowouts, including the infamous Milwaukee game where Roger Mason, Jr. was pulled in the first half because his name wasn’t penciled in the official game roster. To make matters even more turbulent, the Wizards were enduring all this with the uncertainty of their head coach’s employment status (which eventually became certain after starting 2-15). Yeah, it sucked.
This season, the Wizards face a similar state of disorder. There is uncertainty, along with a bit of confusion, but the glaring disparity that separates this team from last year’s lies primarily within effort and will and most of all, confidence. Since the brutal start last season that ran Flip Saunders out of town and eventually landed him behind an ESPN newsroom desk, the Wizards have done a fair job of cleansing the locker room of underachieving nuisance. The reflection of these results was observed in the strong finish to the season, and the rollover in hope for this season.
With the Wizards forced to open the season without their star point guard and center, along with a blur of new faces and a promising rookie, the expectations are at floor level once again. A winless start has done nothing but justify those expectations. However, a legitimate observer of the game, such as myself, can sense the change in culture, aura, and approach. Games have actually been watchable through four quarters and opposing players have actually been earning their paychecks against Wizards and not just treating it like a slow night at the office.
The Wizards have shown they have the ingredients that make for a team that can win consistently. They just need to mold those ingredients correctly to make it happen by getting off to faster starts, attacking the rim and earning free throw attempts, staying poised through the final stretch of ball games and avoiding self-destruction, setting up plays where the offense can exploit their strengths and not waste possessions. That along with any other fundamental standards of basketball you can think of.
An opportunity for a win and shift in momentum couldn’t have come at a better time for the Wizards. Tonight they face their red-headed stepchild -- the Charlotte Bobcats – a team they beat by an average of 19 points last season.
One statistic that positively stands out for the Wizards despite the slow start is their top five ranking in team assists per game. You don’t think that offers an example of improvement? I’m sure we all remember the endless fit we threw at the Wizards’ atrocious habit of one-on-one ball in the half court offense before this season.
Although what’s on paper is ultimately all that matters, and this may certainly be an aimless attempt to sugarcoat another dismal start to a long season, there actually is an underlying reason for hope that things may be looking up.